Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Trump-era land mine policy unchanged amid review | Biden spending outline coming Friday | First lady sets priorities for relaunched military families initiative

Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: A Trump-era land mine policy is staying in place -- for now.

The Pentagon said this week it's keeping in place the previous administration's policy while it conducts a review.

In a statement Tuesday, Pentagon spokesperson Mike Howard said the Defense Department still finds the weapon "a vital tool in conventional warfare" that the U.S. military "cannot responsibly forgo, particularly when faced with substantial and potentially overwhelming enemy forces in the early stages of combat."

Amid blowback from human rights groups, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby clarified at a briefing that while Howard's statement was "accurate and factual," defense officials are analyzing the land mine policy and how the decision was made to change it last year.

"When we complete that analysis of that decision, then we'll be able to have a better idea of whether or not further review of our land mine policy is warranted," Kirby said.

Congressional reaction: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement Wednesday that he had spoken to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as recently as last week "about the need to return to the Obama policy on land mines."

"I have spoken to President Biden about this over many years, and I'm confident that his administration will do the right thing and renounce these indiscriminate weapons that have no place in the arsenal of civilized nations," Leahy said.

Background: Former President Trump last year rolled back restrictions on land mines placed outside of the Korean Peninsula, nixing Obama's 2014 directive to no longer produce or acquire the weapon in the region. The so-called persistent mines stay active indefinitely and are meant to protect South Korea from any threats from North Korea.

Shortly after Trump's move, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced a change to the Pentagon's land mine policy, allowing the armament as long as it had self-destruct features or could self-deactivate.

The 164-country agreement known as the 1997 Ottawa Convention banned the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of older types of antipersonnel land mines as they are likely to kill and wound civilians.

Obama's policy largely followed the convention, though the United States has not signed the international agreement.


After a brief delay, the administration is set to unveil its proposed top-line spending numbers for the 2022 government budget on Friday.

The discretionary proposal, which is expected to be short on details, will include proposed spending figures for defense as well as non-defense funding.

Background: The administration originally said last week would be when the numbers came out, but then delayed the release.

The hold up reportedly involved continued debate over what the defense budget request will be.

On defense: As noted in this newsletter before, defense watchers are expecting a relatively flat request compared to last year's $740 billion defense budget. The overall defense budget includes both Pentagon funds and non-Pentagon programs such Department of Energy nuclear weapons funding.

The official release of the numbers is sure to kick into overdrive a fight that has already been heating up between progressives who want to slash defense funding and Republicans who want to continue the Trump-era plus-ups.


First lady Jill Biden on Wednesday laid out the next steps of the military families initiative she started during the Obama administration, previewing a major focus of her work in the White House over the next few years.

Biden said that through the initiative, called Joining Forces, the Biden administration will prioritize employment of military spouses, military child education and the health and well-being of those who have served in the U.S. military and their families.

"You may not wear a uniform, but you serve and you sacrifice for us all," Biden told a virtual gathering of military family members, advocates and other stakeholders at the White House. "Military families are as critical to our national defense as a rudder is to a ship and we must always act to that truth."

Her plans: Biden said that the administration will work to ensure spouses of military members have access to employment opportunities and receive quality child care. Additionally, she said the initiative will be focused on partnering with educators to get military-connected children the tools they need to succeed in the classroom.

Finally, she said officials will support the health and well-being of service members and their families by bolstering access to mental health resources and ensuring they can put food on the table.

Biden said she has already received commitments from the Pentagon and the Labor and Education departments to support Joining Forces and that she expects "every agency to step up and be part of it."

Background: Biden, along with then-first lady Michelle Obama, launched the initiative to support military and veteran families in 2011 and revived the initiative when she returned to the White House with President Biden in January.

Earlier this year, she named Rory Brosius, who served as deputy director of Joining Forces during the Obama administration, as the program's new executive director.

The first lady has held virtual listening sessions with members of military families over the past few weeks, but Wednesday's event represented the formal unveiling of the next phase of the program.


Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber and nuclear, will participate in "The Space Policy Show" webcast hosted by the Aerospace Corporation's Center for Space Policy and Strategy at  1 p.m. https://bit.ly/3fS7Pqi

James Helis, director of the Army Resilience Directorate, will speak about efforts to improve sexual assault and harassment prevention efforts at  an Association of the U.S. Army Thought Leaders webinar at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/3dMZ65O


-- The Hill: Biden speaks to Jordan's king

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-- The Hill: US restores $235 million in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians blocked by Trump

-- The Hill: Opinion: Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured

-- Defense News: Rejoining Open Skies would send 'wrong message' to Russia, State tells partners

-- Washington Post: U.S. and Iraq conclude talks on troop presence

-- Associated Press: US military cites rising risk of Chinese move against Taiwan